Rolls-Royce of SUVs
When people refer to “the Rolls-Royce” of something, it implies that the item is the best and most luxurious of its kind. And now comes a new sport-utility vehicle that is indeed the Rolls-Royce of SUVs — the all-new Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Since Cullinan is the first-ever sport ute from this legendary British marque, the company has gone to great lengths to make certain the vehicle deserves to wear the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament — the emblematic representation of the automaker. After driving the new SUV, we can confirm that the Cullinan maintains Rolls-Royce’s legacy of luxury.
But one might wonder why Rolls-Royce would ever break from its tradition of creating exclusive, ultra-luxurious sedans. “Our customers expect to go everywhere in luxury, effortlessly and without compromise, conquering the most challenging terrain to enjoy life’s most enriching experiences, wherever they may be,” said Torsten Muller-Otvos, chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “For this reason, they have asked us to create a Rolls-Royce that offers uncompromised luxury wherever they dare to venture. Cullinan is that car. It is Effortless, Everywhere,” Muller-Otvos noted.
Diamond in the Rough
The Cullinan handles varied terrain and goes to locations that no other Rolls-Royce can. In fact, this is the first Rolls in a long time that looks good with mud splattered on its elegant, iconic grille. And since this new SUV’s name originates from the largest diamond ever discovered — now part of the British Crown Jewels — the Cullinan is truly a diamond in the rough.
Architecture of Luxury
Cullinan is built on Rolls-Royce’s new all-aluminum platform, dubbed the Architecture of Luxury. First used for the flagship Phantom, this aluminum spaceframe can be adapted for different vehicle requirements. For Cullinan, the spaceframe is higher and shorter, accommodating a first for Rolls-Royce — a tailgate. The new aluminum substructure also delivers body stiffness needed for Cullinan to offer a Rolls-Royce ride when the terrain gets rough.
Although an entirely new model, one look at Cullinan reveals it as heir apparent to the Rolls-Royce lineage. The hand-polished stainless-steel grille sits flush with the bodywork, yet it remains prominent next to headlights and vents recessed into the bodywork. The sculpted hood radiates back from the bold grille, split by the Rolls-Royce badge and — of course — the famed Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
Big and Bold
The grille and beltline ride high above the ground, making Cullinan look even taller than its massive 22-inch wheels suggest. The B and C pillars strike a vertical statement, while the roof slopes downward to the rear, meeting up with a spoiler above the rear hatch. From practically any angle, the Cullinan can easily be described as big and bold.
The 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan is available as a single trim level, but as is common with the British marque, the level of customization available is extensive. The Cullinan has two primary configurations — Lounge Seats of Individual Seats. This choice determines if Cullinan will seat four or five.
Rolls-Royce Cullinan with Lounge Seats
At a base MSRP of $325,000, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan arrives with an extensive list of standard equipment that includes soft leather on all seats with contrasting stitching and piping, a 7-inch touchscreen display, wood veneer trim, a head-up display, an around-view camera, adaptive cruise control, multiple USB outlets, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a premium entertainment system. The latest in advanced safety technology also available on Cullinan includes wildlife and pedestrian warning, collision warning, cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and blind-spot alert.
Rolls-Royce Cullinan with Individual Seats
For those who are more concerned with luxury than utility, the Individual seat option is the proper choice. Adding about $20,000 to the Cullinan base price, the Individual Seat configuration features two seats with the softest pillow head restraints separated by a large rear center console.
At the base of the console is storage for a whiskey decanter and glasses, while at the back is a refrigerator for a bottle of champagne with two custom Rolls-Royce champagne flutes.
The individual seat option also adds a fixed glass partition between the passenger compartment and cargo area. Thanks to the partition, passengers remain comfortably ensconced in their seats while luggage gets loaded, no matter what the weather.
Under the Hood
In prior models of Rolls-Royce motorcars, any inquiries about power output would invariably be answered by RR reps or press materials as being “adequate.” The Cullinan has more than adequate power, though, emanating from a 6.75-liter V12 engine that produces 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque at a low 1600 rpm. That power gets sent to the road, dirt, mud — or whatever surface lies below this big SUV — via the first-ever all-wheel-drive system in a production Rolls-Royce.
Cullinan’s big V12 engine is teamed with an 8-speed smooth-shifting automatic transmission. There is no sport mode as found on other performance SUVs; however, choosing the Low setting on the shift stalk keeps the revs higher before shifts occur for improved performance. Fuel economy is not great but better than expected — Cullinan has a rating of 12 mpg city / 20 mpg hwy / 14 mpg combined. During our drive we saw an indicated 12.4 mpg; however, a good portion of that was off pavement.
Magic Carpet Ride
Rolls-Royce prides itself on providing what it calls a “Magic Carpet Ride.” To ensure the smoothest ride possible, Cullinan employs an enhanced version of the brand’s self-leveling air suspension. The suspension makes millions of calculations every second, continuously reacting to steering input, body and wheel acceleration, as well as camera information that detects changes in road surface. Cullinan also features a new double-wishbone front axle and a 5-link rear axle, designed for excellent agility and stability in all conditions; four-wheel steering contributes to overall drivability.
Pressing the off-road button on the center console makes a number of adjustments to prepare the Cullinan to venture off pavement. The air suspension raises the ground clearance by about 1.6 inches while power is directed to all four wheels at all times. In addition, the electronically-controlled shock absorber system uses air compression to actively press down any wheel it detects losing traction, ensuring all wheels remain in constant contact with the ground to deliver maximum torque. Designed to handle a variety of on- and off-road conditions, the Cullinan can travel through standing water up to 21 inches.
Smooth On- and Off-Road
“The drivetrain system we engineered for Cullinan had one key job to do,” explained Caroline Krismer, engineering project leader for Cullinan. “To bring the famed Rolls-Royce ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ to all other terrains possible, while ensuring class-leading on-road behavior in the SUV sector. Put simply, what makes the car great on-road makes the car great off-road,” concluded Krismer.
As expected, the Cullinan’s interior really sets it apart from any other SUV on the road. Surfaces are covered in the finest leather, wood and hand-finished metals — no cheap plastics here. The dashboard is swathed in Box Grain black leather — a durable, water-resistant material typically used for high-end luggage.
The Cullinan’s front seats are big and cushy while being supportive, with multiple power adjustments — the available massaging system is also quite nice — and they can be heated or cooled. The steering wheel, front door armrests, center console lid, rear side armrests and rear center armrest can also be heated.
Rolls-Royce is often considered “old school,” and while the Cullinan gets equipped with the latest high-tech features, we were surprised to find that climate control is not automatic like systems found in most new high-end vehicles. Instead it simply has a hot / cold dial and fan speed selector, which can be set for either front seating positions, as well as an additional control for rear-seat passengers.
Whether an owner chooses the Lounge Seats or Individual Seats, the rear space of the Cullinan is the ultimate place to ride. There’s plenty of legroom to stretch out, even for the tallest passengers, and with the optional lambswool floor mats, occupants will want to immediately take off their shoes. Multiple USB outlets are available for rear-seat passengers, and the center console with the Individual Seats includes a wireless phone charger.
Table and Screen
Push a button on the side of the front seatback and a small table opens electronically. A button on the other side brings down an individual display screen. Rear-seat passengers can enjoy the entertainment system or follow the driver’s progress with their own view of the navigation system — the perfect way to be a backseat driver.
The Cullinan is a large, tall vehicle, but Rolls has made access to the cabin as easy as possible. Unlocking via the remote or with a touch of the door handle lowers the Cullinan for an easier ingress. As with other 4-door Rolls-Royces, the rear doors are rear hinged to create a wide opening. All doors can be closed automatically with the push of a button. Designers extended the doors so they wrap around the sills; even if the day has been spent careening through mud, an occupant’s legs will not brush up against a dirty surface when exiting.
For days when rain is falling in torrents, Rolls-Royce includes a custom umbrella stored in the rear door that is colored matched to the Cullinan’s interior. Air flows continuously around the umbrella when stored to eliminate moisture buildup.
The rear cargo area features a two-part opening — a standard hatch that swings upward and a lower tailgate. Both are powered and can open or close at the touch of a button.
Cullinan possesses plenty of space for luggage, which remains hidden under a hard tonneau cover. For models equipped with Lounge Seating, rear seats can be electronically folded to increase cargo space. Rear-seats passengers sit higher than the cargo floor, so when the seats are folded, the cargo floor can be electronically raised to create an unbroken surface. As Rolls-Royce press materials amusingly point out, this can be useful in case the space is needed for a “Mark Rothko from the Art Gallery or a newly discovered artifact from the latest archaeological dig.”
Rolls-Royce has created bespoke Recreation Modules designed around any sort of activity, ranging from photography to fishing to skiing. These modules slot easily into the cargo area — each featuring a motorized drawer housing the equipment and paraphernalia needed for an outing. One module expected to be most popular is the Viewing Suite with its two folding seats and a table.
On the Road
Rolls-Royces are as much about the luxurious ride as they are about the lavish amenities, and the Cullinan certainly delivers on both counts. The cabin is impressively quiet while the air suspension absorbs any roughness in the road. Cullinan feels solid and stable, due in part to the vehicle’s heft — it weighs more than three tons.
That heft is noticeable on acceleration from a stop. Although the V12 offers plenty of power, the Cullinan is geared more for comfort than pinned-to-your-seat acceleration, so starts are smooth but don’t feel very quick. Rolls-Royce claims the big SUV will reach 60 mph in 5 seconds, which seems quicker than what we experienced during our press test. That said, once at speed the power on tap is plentiful — passing on two-lane roads is easy, and triple digits arrive quicker than expected.
The air suspension really helps out in the handling department, keeping the Cullinan from leaning too much in corners, with surprisingly ample grip. Steering is very light, in keeping with the Cullinan’s goal of effortless performance. Ultimately Cullinan is an excellent cruiser — which is the best way to enjoy it.
We had the opportunity to take the Cullinan on a variety of off-road terrain, including climbing to the top of the Snow King ski resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There’s something surreal about seeing a rocky dirt track framed by the long hood and the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy ornament — not the typical setting for a Rolls-Royce.
Traction was never an issue while ascending a steep track covered in loose rock and gravel, and the Cullinan’s ride remained surprisingly smooth. Even on washboard-like surfaces the Cullinan was able to keep us perfectly comfortable with very little jarring motion — the Magic Carpet ride in action.
Almost Any Terrain
On a steep descent from the top of the resort, engaging hill-descent control kept this 6,000-pound SUV stable and at a steady pace with no fear of sliding out of control. While the Cullinan isn’t set up for rock crawling or severe Jeeplike off-roading, it can certainly handle just about any terrain an owner would dare experience while keeping passengers comfortably ensconced in their luxurious environment.
Right for You?
With the introduction of the Cullinan, the luxury SUV has reached new heights. Rolls-Royce has instilled its first utility vehicle with all the materials, features, technology and abilities befitting the legendary British marque. While there are luxury SUV offerings from Mercedes-Benz, Bentley and Porsche, they really don’t compete with the exclusivity one gets when purchasing a Rolls-Royce. But this level of luxury and exclusivity does come at a price — the base MSRP of the Cullinan has been set at $325,000; however, the typically-configured model will be closer to $400,000. Rolls-Royce is now taking orders for the Cullinan with deliveries expected before the end of the year, so keep that checkbook handy.
Pros: Lavish interior; powerful engine; Smooth ride on- or off-road.
Cons: No sport mode; very heavy; very expensive.
Bottom Line: Rolls-Royce enters the SUV segment at the top with the ultimate luxury sport ute.